'This Is Us' episode's hidden lesson: life isn't always how you plan it to be

posted by Ron - 

If you're a fan of "This is Us" but haven't gotten to last night's episode, you may not want to read any further until you do.  For the rest, let's discuss.

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Last night's episode, entitled "Memphis," was maybe one of the most beautiful and poignant 60 minutes of television I've ever watched, and the show's creator REALLY nailed moments none of us want to go through but most of us eventually do, and fought the urge(s) to give in to the temptation(s) to "pretty-up" a somber story line.

In a one-on-one with Entertainment Weekly,  show creator Dan Fogelman let us all into his mind a bit about the episode that saw Randall choosing to drive his biological father, William, to his childhood home of Memphis to re-trace his youth and see old friends and family one last time.  William knew he was going there to die; something Randall was unaware of until William's final minutes. Fogelman, having himself dealt with swift passings of his mother and an aunt recently, spoke to EW about the temptation to write in "miracles" or remissions and how he drew from his losses in deciding not to "pretty up" grim realities that we all go through in life, eventually.

In fact, he left a "note" to 'This Is Us' viewers, as well as to the actor who brought 'William' to life - Ron Cephas Jones, via Twitter.

Fogelman told Entertainment Weekly, "It would be very easy for us to make the decision to keep William alive just because people love him so much. I love the actor so much, and the character. But you’re right, it didn’t feel truthful for this character and the purpose he was meant to serve in this story in the present day."

Fogelman pulls back the curtain a bit, telling EW  "First and foremost, it felt to me like life doesn’t play out all the time like a TV show, you know? The characters in your life don’t die during the season finales all the time. And they don’t always die exactly in a rhythm of how you expect it to happen or when or where, so that was part of the thinking. I lost my mom eight years ago in a very traumatic and unexpected way. She died during a surgery that wasn’t supposed to be life-threatening in that way…"

I can appreciate that, and reading of tragic losses near to him only makes this episode that much more special and meaningful to me.

Tomorrow I'm turning 43 years old, and it'll be sixth birthday without my mother to celebrate it with. Her final chapter wasn't how she wanted it to be, nor how we hoped it would play out. I didn't even get back to Augusta in time to be with her before she passed. 

A 'Hollywood script' ending would've seen me getting there in time to have that final 'goodbye' and be with my family at that poignant moment. Better still, she'd have gotten to go home to be with her cats in her home to pass in slumber. Another script we'd all written was she and dad moving to the beach to live with me and enjoy a few years together "living" before she went. That didn't happen, either.

The takeaway: life's messy and no matter how well you try and script it, it's going to do it's own thing.

William's advice to his son, Randall, really is appropriate: roll down the windows and drive with the music up loud. Toss the maps. "Live a little," in essence.

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